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Species Profile: Banded Guitar Fish

Author: Terra Firma Tackle

Species Info:

                The Banded Guitarfish (Zapteryx exasperata) is one of only three members of the guitarfishes found in California and is the second largest of the three species. Easily distinguished from its relatives by its heavily mottled and banded coloration, it is also wider in the head and posses rounded dorsal ridges as opposed to the thorns of the other members. These fish can be found from Central California to Baja and are far more numerous in the southern portion of their range. They feed on or near the bottom and bear live young like other members of the family. Only reaching up to 4 feet in length these fish are sought after not for their sport qualities, but for the novelty of the species and the excellent table fare.


                Banded, Banded Shovel, Gucci Skate, Fancy Thornback


                Gucci Skates can be targeting with equal effectiveness from both the pier and the surf. If looking for the bigger grade fish over a few feet in length, the sides of the pier just behind the breakers are the best choice. Finbait is a good starting point, herring, smelt, perch and even croakers are good options, especially when fished alive.  Sardines however are hard to beat when it comes to bottom bait. Stomach contents of harvested fish seem to indicate that they feed a lot on swimmer crabs as well, but a lack of steady supply renders these difficult to utilize as a hookbait.

                These are not drag burning fish, in fact the anglers rarely knows they have one hooked. The fight is usually slow, 20lb line would be more than adequate for these fish.

                From the surf rigs like the Loop Rig, Pulley Rig, or even the basic Carolina/Fishfinder rig are all good options. There is no need for wire when banded fishing, but in the event that another shark takes the bait be prepared for a cut off. From the pier slidebaiting is a viable option and using weighted non-return sliders is a good idea to get the bait down as fast as possible. A favorite bait from the pier is a live herring on a light fluorocarbon leader (60-80lb). These fish do tend to be a little line shy and more fish will definitely be caught on lighter leaders than on heavy or stiff terminal gear.


                Banded Guitarfish are uncommon all along the Southern California coast, but Orange County and SD County tend to hold more of these than other locales. Late summer when the water temperatures are in the low 70’s is the best bet. Look for areas of sand beaches, preferably adjacent to jetties or submerged structure as these areas provide the soft substrate the skates like as well as bait holding areas.


                Summer is the best bet for these fish. Fish around the grunion runs and on big tide swings and be prepared. Usually when one is found several others are fast behind!

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